Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Famous Last Words

My absolute favorite piece of scripture is the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20


16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I don't know what really started my love for this passage, but I think it may have begun during a class I had with Laceye Warner at Duke.  We talked about this passage a lot, and what it means to be disciples in our current time.  This passage is the very last thing we hear in the Gospel of Matthew.  It is the final, parting words of Jesus that we are given, according to Matthew's account at least.

Why are these words so important?  These words are not just a simple request from Jesus, but they are perhaps some of the most important words he ever uttered.  "Go and make disciples of ALL nations." But do we take this seriously?  Do we really take this command to heart?

These are some of Jesus' famous last words.

Those of you who know me know that I really love John Wesley.  Wesleyan history is one of my favorite topics of conversation and it's where my nerd flag really flies high (almost as much as my love for Star Wars).  But as John Wesley died, he held the hands of all the people around them, told them how much he loved them, and as he took his final breath he said, "The best of all is, God is with us."   Every time I hear those words I get chills.  I only hope that I could be so profound, so prophetic, at any point in my life, let alone in my dying moments.


Famous.  Last. Words.

What message is so important to you that you would want it to be the words you left your family and friends with?  I think for me, I would want it to be something like, "Love one another".  Or maybe "If you want to be a disciple, you have to remember that it's not about you."

It's NOT about you.  It's not about me. It's not about any of us.  The best news is that God is with us.  The GOOD news is that Christ came to show us how to make disciples so that the world could see that God is with us.  I think this is a hard message in our consumerist society. 

 It's a hard message for those of us who are believers to realize that none of this is about us.  Yet we make it all about us.  What can the church do for me? What ministries can you offer for me?  How can you appeal to me and the needs of MY family?  And if the small church that has been begging for young families can't offer those things, we leave and go somewhere else that can.  And that's not to shame or say that those are inherently bad things to want, but do we want it to truly build up our faith?  Or is it a social need?  What if we stayed in those small churches and built ministries where we land and were a part of the community?

This past week we had our North Carolina Conference United Methodist Church Annual Conference in Greenville, NC.  And for the first time in my 32 years (preacher's kid, youth delegate, then preacher myself) of going to conferences I didn't leave feeling absolutely frustrated.  And that's a good thing.  We talked about climate change.  We talked about issues that matter. We lifted a resolution from our youth to tackle the poor road conditions in Johnston county.  We were taking social action on issues that MATTER, and it was a glorious thing to see.  (I feel like the youth are really a beacon that we should be looking to in the church for direction, but I digress...)

We talked about what mattered...

I mean sure, when you put several thousand church people in a room together, we're going to get side tracked, but we truly talked about issues that matter. One of my biggest sorrows about the church today is that we spend so much time getting caught up in minutiae that only tears us apart, and it kills me.  It makes me weary... and I know that I'm not alone.  Every time it happens I find myself going back to this Great Commission text:

  Is what we're doing helping to make disciples of ALL the nations?  Does what we're doing right now show that God is with us?

There's a lot of talk about split and division in the United Methodist Church, and I'll be honest it terrifies me.  I don't know where we'll end up.  I don't know what will happen.  I don't honestly know what the best decision is for the church.  We have this commission on A Way Forward (and as the bishop pointed out this week it's A way forward not necessarily THE way forward, because we know we are human and we know that there are many different options for how this can go) that is set to talk about where the church needs to go in the next few years.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do believe in resurrection.  I believe in renewal. I don't believe that the church has to die.  But I do believe that the church has to die to what it is.  We've done a lot of damage to our society by forgetting what our Great Commission is.  We've done a lot of damage by forgetting this call to create disciples.  It is not a call to show everyone that we're right.  It is not a call to affirm our politics.  It is not a call to divide.  It is not a call to cast aside some people as worthy while we pick and choose who we think God came for.  It is not a call to build walls and destroy communities.  It IS a call to love our neighbor, to love them so much that they see that God is with us.  It IS a call to bear evidence of God's love in this world.  It is a call to teach others who God IS, and not what we've made God to be in our own image.

It's not about us...

I wonder what the famous last words of the church would be.  It scares me to think what some of us might say.  If the church were to end RIGHT now, what would our last impression be on the world around us.  Would it be that we don't like LGBTQ people?  Would it be that we don't want our black neighbors showing up at church on Sunday?  Would it be that we don't want people asking for help because it scares us?  If it's anything other than LOVE, we're doing it wrong.

We need to decide what impression we would want to leave.  We need to decide what parting words we would want to share and we need to start living into it right now. 

I don't want to the church to die.  I don't want it to split.  Because in my heart, I know that the best news of all is that God is with us, and there's not a single person on this earth I don't want to share that with.  

Blessings <><
Pastor Laura


Monday, June 12, 2017

Pint Sized Pentecost

Last week we celebrated Pentecost in the life of the church, the day in which the Holy Spirit descends upon the people gathered.  People were speaking in their native languages but they could all understand one another.  It was like "tongues of fire" and even though it was only 9am in the morning people thought, "They must be drunk!  What's going on here is just TOO crazy to have any other explanation!!"

That, at least, is the super abridged, sweeping analysis of what happened that Pentecost day.  Today at Saint Paul we're continuing our new ministry "Pray and Play Cafe", a chance for kids to gather with their parents and have a time of prayer and play while learning a Bible lesson.  We had a huge crowd this morning:

Of course, all three of them belong to me, but eventually we'll have some other friends to join us ;) (at least that's my hope... otherwise we might have to re-invent ourselves and take this show on the road)

This morning we talked about Pentecost, about how the Spirit works within us to equip all of us for ministry, and how God's Kingdom is filled with people from all different backgrounds, and that even though we don't all look the same or speak the same way, we still are children of God.


Cameron is in the Spanish Immersion program at Martin Millennium Academy (now in FIRST GRADE, HOLY COW!!!) and he said that Pentecost is sort of like how he can understand his teachers when they speak Spanish at school, but he can also understand us when we speak English at home.  A pretty good analogy for a 5 year old, I think.  See, even though Spanish isn't his native language, when he listens carefully and he pays attention he can understand what is being said at school.  At Pentecost, the reason they could understand one another was because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, but in our every day interactions, sometimes all it takes is some intentionality to listen to one another and strive to understand.

Sometimes we break down barriers where there are divisions in language, race, culture, background, nationality, and we build walls instead of seeking to listen and understand one another.  Pentecost is a reminder that we are called to be united by the Spirit, united by Christ, united in our love of God and neighbor.  Sure, maybe people will think we're crazy.  Maybe they'll think we're drunk (see Acts 2).  Maybe they'll think it's a lost cause, but can it really hurt to try?

My (almost 6 year old) son understands this.  He gets it.  We should strive to love our neighbor, regardless of our differences.  What can you do to show your love of neighbor today?

~As a side story: a few weeks ago we were at Highway 55 in Tarboro and a complete stranger paid for our meal.  My kids had been yelling and acting crazy and I'm used to someone in those situations making comments about how I have my hands full or offering unwanted advice about how to calm everyone down.  However, this kind person didn't do that... he just paid for our meal (probably because he noticed our insanity) and said that because he had been blessed, he wanted us to feel blessed too.

I'm sure there were plenty of other people in that restaurant who needed it more than we did, but it sure meant a lot for someone to share that act of kindness with us.  This person probably had different political beliefs than us, probably didn't share our history, we might not even have the same religious beliefs, but none of that came up and it didn't matter.  What mattered in that moment was love of neighbor, and while it may seem small, to us it was huge, and it's exactly the way we should be loving one another in this world.  ~

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Lord is my (German) Shepherd

For as long as I can remember I've wanted a German Shepherd. I've spent so much time scouring websites and rescue groups and shelters looking for a German Shepherd in need of a good home.  Nathan would always roll his eyes at me as I'd send him pictures of dogs that would pop up.  I'd say, "What do you think of this one?" and he'd say, "It looks like a dog".  (He thinks he's funny)

I love dogs, I'm a dog person through and through, but I have never had exactly the dog I was looking for, until this sweet girl came into my life.

This is Princess Zelda, who come to us by crazy happenstance this week.  As always I was looking at websites and sending Nathan pictures of random dogs, but I fell upon a breeder in Bath, NC who had nothing less than 5 star reviews.  So I sent her a message just inquiring about what a puppy would cost.  I didn't really want a puppy, but thought I would get some more information anyway.  It turned out that she had a beautiful two year old, totally trained in German commands that she was wanting to find a home for. She had planned to breed her but was unable to and preferred that she be able to live with a family who could give her lots of attention.  We have three little boys and this girl has been playing fetch or "Brring" non-stop for the past two days.

How often do you stumble upon a dog that is totally trained, good with kids, friendly, socialized and patient?  It's as if all those times Nathan rolled his eyes at me (wink wink Nathan) kept me from missing this opportunity.  

It's funny watching her with the boys.  She LOVES them.  She'll kiss them, cuddle them, play fetch with them.  She gets really upset when Allen walks out of the room. She thinks we should all be sitting in the same room and nobody is allowed to leave.  So she'll sort of walk circles around him to lure him back into the living room.  It's hilarious.  He just laughs at her and she gets so excited once her "job" is complete.

She's only been with us for two days but she's always alert, always watching out for her family, standing guard.  I keep thinking of the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd..." Shepherds look out for their flock.  They don't let anyone go astray.  A German Shepherd, lives up to its name.  She causes us to pause to rest, she restores my soul. I know that sounds crazy, but I just look at her and I KNOW she was the dog I was supposed to have.  The lady who raised her and trained her said that she had several inquiries this past week for dogs and she didn't mention Zelda to anyone, but for some reason she just felt that we were the right fit for her, and I believe she was absolutely right.  



She's laying with me in the office now, standing guard, my big, scary, ferocious attack dog... 


...actually, she's just a REALLY big, 80 lb baby.


Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me [a] alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.
You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live[b] in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Mary, Elizabeth, and the Spirit

It's been forever since I've posted anything.  I do a lot of writing as a preacher... sermon prep takes a good 8-10 hours of my week every single week, but most of what I write never gets posted anywhere, just shared verbally from a pulpit on Sunday mornings.

I've always loved to write.  I love the joy of putting my thoughts down on a piece of paper, all chicken scratch with doodles and random pictures of flowers to help emphasize my points.  In that regard I think I'll always be like I was in third grade, drawing hearts on my notes, although the names are a little more sophisticated than they were in those days.  No longer is it just a doodle with Laura and Nathan  written everywhere, but it's REVEREND Laura and Mr. Laura's husband, because I like to see myself in such high esteem (totally a joke, of course)  Side note: whenever we get mail from Duke Divinity school, they only recognize me as reverend and not Nathan, so our mail says Rev. Laura and Mr. Nathan Wittman. Makes me chuckle every time.

So on we go... dusting off the old blog.  We'll see how long I keep this up this time ... wink wink.

I absolutely love the sanctuary at my church, and this picture doesn't even begin to do it justice, just my view from the pew this morning.  I love my time alone in here during the week.  Sometimes I'll sit and do work in here instead of my office, or I'll pray, or plan worship or play my guitar.  It's my special time with God, I suppose.


This morning I had some prayer time while sitting in here, using my typical "Common Prayer" app, and the highlighted scripture for today was from Luke 1:39-49, the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, when Mary is going to tell her that she is pregnant.  When Elizabeth encounters Mary the child in her womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy and it says "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit".

As we approach Pentecost I find this to be an interesting choice of scripture.  We tend to inappropriately categorize the Holy Spirit as something that showed up after Jesus left, but the Spirit is coeternal with the Father and the Son.  It was the very air breathed into our lungs, the wind that hovered over the waters.  It has been working since before time even began.  And it was at work in Elizabeth that day as she stood in the presence of the Messiah, long before anyone knew what was to happen.

I think being "filled with the Spirit" can mean a lot of things to us. I think it can be that warm feeling we get when we encounter God... when a song speaks to us... when we find hope where hope was lost, the list goes on and on.  I think that the Spirit can be seen in different ways, through spiritual gifts, and some of us express our encounter of the Spirit in different ways too.  

But I think one thing the Spirit teaches us is that you don't have to see something to know it's there.  You don't have to physically lay your eyes on something to know that it's real, to feel it, to experience it.  In the time of Mary and Elizabeth there was no ultrasound equipment, no early results pregnancy tests.  Elizabeth knew what was happening not because she had any physical evidence, but because she encountered the Holy Spirit.

In our day and age it's hard to be people of faith.  I say that not because we face persecution or trial for our faith. We are extremely privileged where we are to have that freedom of worship.  But what I mean is that we live in a society where the answers to everything are right at our fingertips.  I can explain quantum physics to my five year old with a simple google search.  It doesn't mean I understand it, but I can search for it and give him a satisfactory answer when he comes up with questions that are way above my pay grade as a mom.  We can have things delivered to our houses, overnighted from the other side of the country.  Everything is at our finger tips, we can have whatever we want, the moment we want it.  But God... God doesn't work that way.

Being people of faith does not mean having everything we want right when we want it. God is outside of our time and he works in ways we will never understand (I hate when people say that, but it's 100% true).  Our faith is not about believing in what we can prove, but it's about believing in what we have experienced, and in the ways we have encountered God on our own.  It's about trusting that there is something bigger than us.  It's about believing that this man, named Jesus, who loved us enough to give his own life for us was working wonders before he was even born, and he continued to work wonders after his death.

If you think about it, it's amazing that Christianity has lived on as long as it has.  It's amazing that they still let us crazy people, who call ourselves preachers, stand up and talk for twenty minutes on Sunday mornings.  It's amazing that even though I have read the Bible cover to cover more times than I can count, I still find something new every time I read scripture.  God's word is alive and well, and we don't have to be able to make sense of it, but we can see the evidence of the Spirit moving in this world if we just pay attention.

I suppose I should stop here for now, as goodness knows I could go on for days, but I need to save some of this for my sermon on Sunday. If you even made it this far, I appreciate you listening to my ramblings. I'm sure I'll have more to share soon.  


Blessings <><
Pastor Laura

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Grateful, but Heavy Heart

This Wednesday, February 27th, was supposed to be our due date for our sweet little Taylor.  I have found myself feeling kind of like an emotional hurricane the past few days.  I have several friends who have had babies in the past week and it just makes my heart full of delight to see the miracles of life that have come into this world.  But at the same time, I find my heart heavy, knowing that if what could have been had actually happened, we would be very close to holding our new sweet little baby.  It's just so hard to face the reality that we did suffer a loss and that that loss still hurts.

But at the same time, we have this new beautiful little miracle that is growing and getting bigger every single day.  THIS little miracle is almost 13 weeks along and has the strongest, most adorable heartbeat you have ever heard.  I indulged and bought myself a fetal doppler so that I could have some peace of mind.  I find myself sitting alone, listening to my baby, praying, and thanking God for this little symbol of joy that will be gracing our presence in September.  The other day, I even heard hiccups!!  I mean, how stinkin' cute is that??

But as a mother I'm struggling right now.  I look at Cameron and see the most precious little boy in the entire world, who I couldn't imagine ever living my life without.  He brings me joy like nobody else ever could and he has the most contagious laugh you have ever heard.  He's funny, he's silly, he's snuggly and he's the best little buddy I could ever ask for.  My love for him is greater and more amazing than any love I have ever know in this life.  Because of the love that I have for him, I'm already so in love with this baby that I am carrying, because I know the joy that she (or he) is going to bring into our lives as well.  But I struggle because I also had that love for my little Taylor.

When we first had our miscarriage, I said that the biggest thing that would bother me is if everyone forgot what we went through, and forgot about Taylor.  That hasn't happened at all, and I'm thankful for my friends who continue to pray for us and remember us often.  I have been so very blessed in that capacity and I am forever grateful.

I am so thankful to be pregnant, even through the morning sickness (which I still have by the way) and I cannot wait until September to look this sweet baby in the face and fall in love just like I did with Cameron.  But this week is bittersweet.  If you get a chance this week, say a prayer for us.  I thank God for Taylor every single day because I still consider her one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.  Without our loss, as painful as it was and still is, we wouldn't be expecting this new baby.

On March 15 we are scheduled for our next ultrasound and we will get to find out what we are having!!  I am so excited and filled with joy for this new life and I just feel grateful.  My heart is heavy, but it's happy and that is a long, long way from where I was in August of last year.  Thank you all so much for your thoughts, your prayers, your love and your support.  I cannot wait to share more with you as Baby W grows throughout this pregnancy.  Blessings <><

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Hymn of Promise

I haven't written in a very long time, and I've honestly missed writing on here.  Things have been incredibly busy.  Ordination papers are due in less than two weeks.  I have a pastor profile to complete, and a million things going on as the season of Lent approaches.  It is simply a busy season.

After our miscarriage last year, things seemed impossible.  The hope of having another baby was filled with question.  Would we ever get pregnant again, and if we did, would everything be okay?  I was scared and I don't know if I've ever prayed so much in my life as I have since August 8, 2012.  The day that we found out about our miscarriage was the worst day of my life.  But in the midst of it I honestly believed that the loss of our sweet Taylor was not in vain.

I heard so many stories from friends who I didn't even know had miscarriages, who told me that as soon as they had their next pregnancy and held that precious child they knew they wouldn't trade them for anything.  I know that I would never have traded Taylor for anything in the world.  But, I do believe, and I had to believe that some good would come out of it.  That if we hadn't lost that precious baby, we wouldn't have this other baby who means the world to us.

On miscarriage support boards there is this common term, "Rainbow Baby."  It comes from the same understanding of the rainbow that we get from Noah's ark, that after the flood, after the disaster, after the terror, comes a promise that things are going to be okay.  A "Rainbow Baby" is a baby that comes after the miscarriage, the baby that is a sign of promise and hope for parents who have suffered a loss.



This brings me to the best news ever.  Our Rainbow Baby:





On December 21st, I woke up with a "hunch" and took a pregnancy test.  I had been praying so much, and all I could say over and over again was that the only thing I wanted for Christmas was to find out that we were pregnant.

After three ultrasounds we can confirm that baby is growing and the heart rate is increasing and baby looks great.  We are over 9 weeks pregnant and so close to being out of the first trimester.  At our last ultrasound Baby W was wiggling all over the place and had a beautiful 171 bpm just ticking away.

I am already so in love, and so happy and so overwhelmed at this promise.  I think of Taylor Ashley Wittman every single day and what a wonderful blessing she was in this world, even if I was the only one who really knew her.  I also can't help but think now that without Taylor and the pain that we went through, we would never be looking at this beautiful ultrasound of this Rainbow Baby.

One of my favorite hymns is the "Hymn of Promise".  It is a song that reminds us that the biggest blessings are hidden in tiny places and only God knows what is going to happen.  In all of my doubt and fear and crying, God knew that this baby was coming to us, and that this baby was our hidden blessing.

Boy or Girl?  I have no idea, and honestly I would be completely happy either way.  Although, I truly can't wait to find out!  We still have a very long way to go, but I have never felt more sure about anything than I have about the fact that this baby is going to be okay and by September we will be holding this sweet little miracle and wondering how the time passed by so quickly.

Promises are hidden in tiny and unusual places, and sometimes it seems like the waiting is going to kill us, but what we find on the other side is a blessing from God far greater than what we could have imagined for ourselves.  I cannot wait to meet this precious gift, and as our pregnancy continues I can't wait to share more with all of you.

Blessings <><

Monday, August 20, 2012

Consider the Dandelion...

Last night we had a prayer group gathering at church to pray for the students, faculty, and teachers who were heading back to school this week.  It was a great opportunity to be in prayer for a huge chunk of our community, not just at Epworth, but throughout all of Durham.  We got together in teams and every person said their own prayer.  It was beautiful, and it was an exciting thing to be part of.

But before we started our prayer, there were three ladies from the prayer team who talked about what they do and why they started the prayer group at Epworth.  There was one lady, Miss Ruby, who really got to me with her words.  It was like sitting on the front porch with my grandmother while she gave me words of inspiration.  I'm not sure if she has any idea that her words really touched me, but she said a lot of things that I needed to hear.

In particular, she started talking about flowers, and mentioned specifically, the dandelion.  She said most people look at the dandelion and see nothing but a weed.  They pluck them up and throw them away because it's something you don't want in your yard.  But she said, take time to look at the dandelion, because it's one of the most complex flowers you can find.


Most flowers have a particular number of petals that you can expect to find.  But with a dandelion, because they are so complex and so varied, no two are the same.  The other interesting thing is that a dandelion is not actually one flower, but several flowers that come together.  The outside is the disc, and the middle is made up of little florets.  It's fascinating.

In addition, the dandelion is one of the most resilient flowers, able to survive and thrive in almost any condition.  It also has known health benefits, and is listed as one of the top six herbs in Chinese medicine.

But what's interesting about the dandelion doesn't end there...


At the end of the dandelion's life, it turns into this ghost like thing and the seeds fly away so that the plant may be reborn.

What an image of resurrection, of new life, of new beginning.

The dandelion is a lot like us.  We are resilient, even though we don't always feel that way.  We are complex.  Our personalities, our lives, our backgrounds, our histories are all different.  No two of us are the same.  But the best part is that our lives don't end at our death.  Instead that is the moment that we are reborn, when we have the opportunity to be with God, to have that resurrection and that tangible promise of fellowship with the One who created us.

Last night, Miss Ruby's words really stuck out to me, because they were words that I needed to hear.  I posted on Facebook last week the words of one of my favorite hymns, "The Hymn of Promise" which said:

"In the end is our beginning, in our time infinity.  In our doubt there is believing.  In our life, eternity.  In our death, a resurrection.  At the last, a victory; unrevealed until it's season, something God alone can see."

I love these words, because they give me hope.  We don't have to know all of the answers.  We don't have to know where our lives will lead us.  We don't have to know exactly what we will be doing from one day to the next.  We simply need to allow ourselves to breathe, to take one step at a time, to relish in those good moments and breathe deeply through the bad ones.  And sometimes we need to just be...  But what we do know, what we are assured through scripture, through what Jesus taught us, is that our death, our suffering, our moments of shame and of doubt are not in vain, but they come with the promise of resurrection, of new life.

Just like the dandelion, we will give up what we once were, to have a new and better life.

Every once in a while in the past few days, I encounter someone who hasn't heard the news yet about our miscarriage.  They ask how my pregnancy is going, and I have to face the painful sting, all over again, of explaining what happened.  It hurts, and I feel like I have to keep facing the reality of it all, over and over again.  But then I remember the dandelion.  I remember what Jesus did for me, and I remember that what I'm going through is temporary.  I will always miss Taylor, and I will always think about the life that could have been.  But this moment of agony, and of angst, and of wondering what will happen next is only temporary.

So here it is, my blessing for the day.  Pajamas.  Yes, I said it, pajamas.  I get so tickled at people who post things on Facebook about feeling bad about wearing their pajamas at 5 o'clock.  They would be shocked if they came to our house.  When I'm home, I want to be comfortable.  I don't stay in my work clothes or my Sunday best.  I get comfy.  Nathan and I are both that way, and of course, Cameron is too.  My child hates to wear clothes anyway, so he's usually wearing something pretty snuggly around the house.  I love pajamas. Today is a rainy day, and it's a good day for snuggling.  As soon as I get home from work today, I'm throwing on my pajamas and loafing on the couch with my baby and it is going to be glorious. There will be no shame, only comfort, and I am really looking forward to it.  :)